Jeffrey T. Larson
Electrolux (oil, 26×58)
Combining precise draftsmanship and painterly refinement, Jeffrey T. Larson’s Electrolux presents a circa-1950-style vacuum cleaner with a gracefully twisted hose. The artist admired the machine’s style and craftsmanship. “It was so classic, it was almost contemporary,” he says, so, exploiting the tension between the elegant and the functional, he situated the vacuum on a mantel as if it were a sculpture or trophy.
A similar painting usually takes him about eight months to complete, but he finished this one in only five. “The piece seemed to paint itself,” says Larson (www.jeffreytlarson.com). Still, he admits that the position of the hose proved a challenge: “I spent probably three days moving that hose around.”
“This was a single-object still life, so I wanted to develop each aspect of every element and detail to the fullest in the finished piece—using nuances of light patterns, composition, the abstract flow of lines, and color,” he explains. “Every refinement made it different. With a still life, I look for subtle light and nuances.”
In addition to still lifes, the classically trained artist from Maple, Wisconsin, also paints landscapes and figures outdoors. He has made a living solely from his art for the past 22 years, developing a large clientele in the Twin Cities area. He also sells his work through the Eleanor Ettinger Gallery in New York City and Tree’s Place on Cape Cod.
Asked about the evolution of his art, Larson says, “I hope it’s become more personal. I sure hope it doesn’t look like anybody else’s. I’m always working on being a better draftsman and on improving every aspect of my craft. I try to paint things that I’d like to see in a museum.”
An unexpected connection made by Benjamin J. Shamback (www.benjaminshamback.com) led him to paint Glasses on Red 5: “The inspiration for this piece was the relationship between the yellow circle on the bag (seen through the wine bottle) and the yellow bowl. I set everything up to support the interaction of those two shades.”
In fact, it is color that drives his passion for this genre. “Still life lends itself to the study and expression of color,” says Shamback, “because the genre allows me to be very precise about what colors are in front of me and how I respond to them in the paintings.” Working from life, the Mobile, Alabama, artist begins with small charcoal drawings to test out compositional options. After the first layer of oil paint dries, he sands the surface. “Then, working in small areas, I glaze and paint into each area directly,” he says. “Usually I finish a painting like this in three layers of paint over the course of two or three months.”
The arrangement in Glasses on Red 5—with its glass containers of different shapes and sizes, filled to varying degrees—plays with the interconnectedness of shiny surfaces, transparency, reflection and distortion. “I’m drawn to the tension between the conveyance and clarity of information and the conceptual and technical potential of paint,” the artist writes on his website.
Shamback is an associate professor of painting and drawing at the University of South Alabama. He had his first solo exhibition in 2001, followed by awards from numerous national competitive exhibitions throughout the United States. Hidell Brooks Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina, and LeMieux Galleries in New Orleans carry his work.
“I’m a slow and deliberate painter,” says J. Kay Gordon of Marshall, North Carolina, confessing to a naïve confidence with each new project. “I thrive on details and special effects.” Former microbiologist Gordon began painting seven years ago, upon her retirement. Having begun with drawing and then moved to watercolors, she finally settled on pastels because of the freedom and versatility they give her. “I feel so privileged to have found this artistic side of myself,” she says, “at this point in my life.”
Her exacting approach, evident in The Blue Motorcycle, mirrors the demands of her previous career. “I don’t feel intimidated by any subject matter,” says Gordon. “I’ve always considered that a person or a horse (or in this case, a motorcycle) is no more difficult to portray than a mountain or a tree. I concentrate on weaving the details together with the correct proportions and careful placement.”
The motorcycle itself isn’t the subject, the artist explains of her painting. “I was trying to capture the reflections of one motorcycle in the chrome pieces of another,” says Gordon, who worked from photos taken at a motorcycle rally. “I made a careful drawing (using grids) on black paper, then began working with pastels from top to bottom and left to right. I completed each shape or reflective area before moving on to the next area below or to the right, thus avoiding dropping darker pastel dust onto a light area.
When I started the painting, I thought I only had about a half-dozen reflections of the blue motorcycle. However, as I worked across the page, I found myself in the delightful adventure of finding more and more blue reflections. Sometimes the reflection is recognizable as a motorcycle. Other times there is just a blue line or perhaps a soft blue haze. It was such great fun!”
Walking in his garden in Boyds, Maryland, Rulei Bu (www.burulei.com) picked the flowers for his winning oil painting, Irises. Arranging them in a greenish ceramic vase on a red tablecloth, with the sunshine streaming through the window, the artist felt that the setup made for a perfect subject.
“I took photos because I wanted to keep the flowers fresh in the painting,” says the artist who spent between 40 to 60 hours on this work. “I always sketch on undertoned canvas and then use paint to outline the drawing. I loosely put on a first layer to set the temperature of the colors. After that’s dry, I develop my painting by adding details and thick brushstrokes. For this piece, I created varied textures and lines to enhance the contemporary realism. I used brushes, a knife and even a comb.”
This graduate in fine art from Shanghai University in China—and son of well-known Shanghai artist Xinnong Bu—paints still lifes and cityscapes full time and teaches at his studio on weekends. After 20 solo exhibitions in the Washington, D.C., area, Bu is looking for more national exposure.
“Marbles have always held a fascination for me,” says Mickie Acierno (www.mickie.ca), explaining why Polar Ice, the latest of her marble paintings, includes a large bluer, ice-colored marble and several clearer marbles called polar bears.
The transparency of glass can be difficult to convey. “The challenge in painting glass—even something as small as marbles—is to achieve that see-through quality,” says the 2003 graphic design graduate. She uses a restricted palette; this painting was limited to Prussian blue, Prussian green, raw umber, cadmium red light, brown-pink and grays.
Painting up to 50 hours a week, she produces a painting each week and works on several simultaneously. The Vancouver Island (British Columbia) artist creates her own setups and then does a photo shoot. Beginning with a basic line drawing (shapes only), she then draws with paint on canvas. Her goal is to create the paintings that have been brewing in her head for years. “I love turning a line drawing into the illusion of a three-dimensional image,” says Acierno. “I also love portraying an ordinary thing as something beautiful.”
Man vs. Machine, by Jacob A. Pfeiffer (www.jacobpfeiffer.com), evokes nostalgia for a simpler time. This weathered-white electric mixer was a fixture in American kitchens of decades past. The artist always admired the sleek lines of this appliance and worked more than four months on the piece because of the drying time between paint layers and the complex subject matter. “I found the wires on the whisk to be particularly challenging,” says Pfeiffer. Beginning with a detailed drawing on panel, he works from the still life in his studio—in some cases using photo references for lighting and composition. He then builds up the painting with numerous glazes and layers of paint to achieve the right degree of depth and realism.”
Pfeiffer is represented by the John Pence Gallery in San Francisco and the Meyer East Gallery in Santa Fe. He finds “limitless opportunities for self-expression” in still life. “I hope that I continue to grow and improve as an artist,” he says. “Making a decent living along the way would be the icing on the cake.”
Candice Russell is a freelance writer in Plantation, Florida, who writes a visual art column for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale. She is also an independent curator of museum exhibitions on Haitian art and co-author of the catalog Allegories of Haitian Life from the Jonathan Demme Collection.
Upper Nanaimo BC
Long Grove IL
Bel Air MD
Rached K. Bohsali
Paradise Valley AZ
Angela Bentley Fife
Washington Depot CT
Barbara S. Groff
Lake Villa IL
Joel Carson Jones
Upper Marlboro MD
Port Coquitlam BC
Hermosa Beach CA
Jeffrey T. Larson
South Bend IN
Indian Wells CA
Park Ridge IL
Jacob A. Pfeiffer
Cherry Hill NJ
Coral Gables FL
Benjamin J. Shamback
North Mobile AL
Great Neck NY
Fort Worth TX